Brand of the Day: How Athletes Helped to Build ESPN Into a Powerhouse

Subject and audience are one

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ESPN calls itself "the worldwide leader in sports." And it got there partly thanks to quite a bit of free advertising—happily provided by the very athletes it covers.

Basketball, hockey, baseball, soccer, football. Whatever the game, fans count on ESPN to showcase it and analyze it. And ESPN enjoys a pleasantly symbiotic relationship with star athletes, who often freely serve as unofficial endorsers—online and on TV.

The prime example, of course, is the iconic "This Is SportsCenter" ad campaign, set in the surreal world of the ESPN offices, where pro athletes toil as co-workers rather than superhuman sports stars. They generally aren't paid for these appearances (though ESPN often donates money to a charity of their choosing), and one even told ESPN that being in the campaign was on his bucket list.

ESPN's skillful marketing over 35 years is what really built the brand. But it doesn't hurt that, more than most, it doesn't have to fight for celebrity endorsements. Indeed, star athletes love ESPN, and vouch for it. More than likely, if you're a sports fan, you do too.

Social Media Profile (as of 9/23/14)

Facebook Likes: 13 Million

Twitter Followers: 11.4 Million

Instagram Followers: 1.2 Million

Sports fans are incredibly passionate, and this helps ESPN's social presence greatly. It's not surprising that ESPN had the year's top branded post on Facebook by summer's end. Every post on all of the brand's social channels quickly nabs thousands of likes. 

Fast Facts

• ESPN has two owners: ABC, which owns 80 percent, and Hearst Corporation, which owns 20 percent.

• Launched in September 1979, ESPN now has eight cable networks, a variety of digital properties including and, audio and international programming, a magazine and several annual events like the ESPYs and the X Games.

• In August, it launched the SEC Network, which showcases the Southeastern Conference schools.

• The company is based in Bristol, Conn., and has roughly 7,000 employees worldwide. 

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@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.